Parents need to evaluate both the safety and effectiveness of the HPV Vaccine

When it comes to our health and that of the health of our children, we need to be armed with the entire set of facts before we can make any informed decisions and my advice would be that the best place to start is your family doctor…

There have been numerous concerns voiced around possible side-effects relating to the HPV Cervical Cancer Vaccine, and making sure the subject remains firmly in the spotlight is worried Westmeath mam Fiona Kirby who passionately claims her teenage daughter has become ill following her dosage.

  In fact, so convinced is this mother of the negative reactions, (The Irish Times has quoted her as saying her child suffered “horrendous” adverse consequences), she sought to bring legal proceedings asking the High Court to withdraw the license given for the Gardasil HPV vaccine, which, in case you don’t know, is an inoculation (now there’s a word my darling Nana used to say…inoculation) and which has been chosen as the one the HSE use for their HPV vaccination programme as a possible preventative against cervical cancer for young girls, in fact, according to ‘Gardasil® is licensed for use from 9 years onwards.’ Ms Kirby’s injunction has been refused by the High Court.

  Now look, as I always say I’m no medical expert but I’m a mother and, some years ago, it was my gut mothering instinct that made me strenuously refuse to allow my then teenage daughter to avail of this vaccine when it was being rolled out as possibly being offered at her secondary school. It wasn’t around when my eldest girl was a teen so permission wasn’t an issue.

  And, following a parent-teacher meeting where the school guidance counsellor told me how wonderful my child was and the subject of the possibility of the vaccine being offered raised its head, she linked my arm and took me aside in her ‘mightier than thou’ condescending way, her voice lowered, and, spectacles dangling form a chain around her neck, tut-tutted and chided “but sure why would you not allow Megan to get it, all the other girls’ mothers I’ve spoken with think it’s a great idea; if it’s offered, they’re going to  get it;” to which my response was, “Look, what do we know about this vaccine?  Can you, or can any medical expert assure me right now, in writing, that there is any evidence to substantiate that the benefits of this quite new development will far outweigh the possible risks/side effects that may be involved to my child’s health down the line?” 

  The blank look on the condescending biddy’s face told me all that I needed to know…She didn’t have a clue, she couldn’t offer an answer to my very simple question, and I was irritating the hell out of her. When condescending biddy followed up her request later that week with a ‘phone call, giving me the ‘opportunity to change your mind before I submit all the forms,’ my patience got the better of me, forcing me to issue a threat that if she, or anyone else at the school ever sticks a needle in my daughter without my consent then I would have them charged with assault…she didn’t bother me again.

  Now let me say at this point that this vaccine is possibly 100 per cent safe, there could be absolutely no side-effects whatsoever associated with it, it could be the greatest invention since penicillin and while my girls received all of their baby vaccines, I personally felt that as the HPV one was only first introduced into the EU in 2006, with a national immunisation programme being rolled out later in 2011; as someone who researches, analyses and asks so many questions I often drive people to visit the verge of insanity; the fact is, when it came to my children’s health, and nobody could offer me empirical evidence relating to the results of this then new advancement in healthcare, then, well, my kids were off limits…because it’s my reasoning that once a vaccine is in, I can’t just suck it back out; right?

  Now at this point let me mention that cervical cancer is a health risk, and each year approximately 300 women in Ireland are diagnosed with it. Scarily, as opposed to other forms of cancer, cervical cancer mainly affects younger women with 60 per cent of incidences being diagnosed in those who are aged 50 or younger. So, as you can see, this is a highly important vaccine to consider. 

  However, when it comes to our health and that of the health of our children, we need to be armed with the entire set of facts before we can make any informed decisions and my advice would be that the best place to start is your family doctor.

  I also want to say folks that cervical cancer, which is a cancer of the cells that line the cervix or the neck of the womb is a preventable disease…yep, it’s PREVENTABLE – great news; and here’s more great news, screening is available FREE to women resident in the ROI who are aged between 25 and 60 through Cervical Check, the national screening programme; a wonderful programme that saved my life.

  Yes, an annual smear detected my abnormal cells leading me to have a procedure called a Colposcopy which is an examination of the cervix where the doctor determined I needed “further investigation.” Ah sure nothing is ever straightforward with me.

  A referral saw me having Large Loop Excision of the Transformation Zone…try saying that after a few vodkas or (LLETZ). Now this is a minor surgical procedure, just to assure any woman who may be facing it, and it’s carried out under local anaesthetic; abnormal cells are highlighted and a sample is taken and sent to the lab for testing. However, as I had a strong history of other ‘woman related’ problems, when the results came back, my doctor immediately advised a total abdominal hysterectomy to rid me of what he called “a ticking time bomb,” threatening my life. 

  Now please don’t get panicked here, I was the exception, and it’s important to point out that just because a woman may require a Colposcopy and/or LLETZ she should not worry; it does NOT mean she has cancer. What it means is her smear has shown changes in the cells on her cervix giving doctors an early warning sign that cancer MAY develop if these cells are left untreated and her doctor will make a decision as to whether or not she will need surgery.  

  For some, these cell changes may return to normal on their own, however for others; me for instance, following two Colposcopies and two LLETZ surgeries, it was clear that along with other complications, I had a strong potential of developing Ovarian Cancer so a decision that ranks up there with one of the best of my life was taken to remove the plumbing and I feel well and wonderful. The aul pelvic floors are doing great thanks very much!

  So, as there is no proven link between the vaccine and the symptoms that are being reported, again, let me state…no proven link; and despite my own health scare, I am still glad that neither of my girls received their inoculation and I will be strongly advising my daughter against having my 8-year-old granddaughter vaccinated when it’s offered at her school. So while there are different risk factors, such as the human papilloma virus (HPV), which can cause cervical cancer, being passed through sexual contact; using a condom will reduce the risk, not smoking reduces the risk, developing a stronger immune system reduces the risk and importantly, having regular smears reduces the risk; and, if faced with the same decision today, I would still refuse to sign those forms. 

  As I said, have a chat with your family doctor; he/she can best advise; however, ultimately, the decision has got to be a parental one, and, oh, don’t forget to discuss it with your child.